Oscar hopes soar for Denzel Washington in ‘Flight’

Just when it looked like Oscar’s Best Actor race was over with the unveiling of Daniel Day-Lewis‘ impressive turn in “Lincoln,” here comes Denzel Washington in “Flight” hitting the derby track with the full force of a diving jetliner.

Of course, this film is expertly made and academy ready – it’s from director Robert Zemeckis, who won Best Picture with “Forrest Gump” (1994) – and Denzel’s an Oscars darling. He won twice: lead for “Training Day” (2001) and supporting for “Glory” (1989) and was nominated three other times. Of course, he’ll be nominated again, but can he win?

Let’s call this Denzel in a bottle, a seemingly irresistible cocktail to academy voters who are not only addicted to the star, but they’re suckers for drunk roles, which have paid off with big wins for Lee Marvin (“Cat Ballou”), John Wayne (“True Grit”), Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”) and many others. In rehab-happy Hollywood, after all, booze, as a theme, is tempting.

But what will get the primary attention of Oscar voters is the sensitivity and courage of Denzel’s role. He bears it all – body, butt (no kidding), anguished soul and haunted eyes – while we view up close an alcoholic airline pilot who is the ultimate flawed hero. He pulls off a heroic landing of a loaded plane in an open field, but there’s a glitch – he was loaded, too, at the time.

Early reviews are raves (“He flies with it,” the Hollywood Reporter says of Denzel), scoring 92 at RottenTomatoes, but, alas, only a few reviews are out at this point. Let’s assume more critical support ahead. Bottom line: it’s a superb, Oscar-worthy performance. He’s one of three stars who can pull off the win, including Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“) and Joaquin Phoenix (“The Master“). Still unseen by Oscarologists: Anthony Hopkins (“Hitchcock“) and Hugh Jackman (“Les Miserables“). Stay tuned.

Paramount is mounting an impressively ambitious drive to support “Flight’s” Oscar campaign. Yesterday the studio staged a bicoastal, multimedia event at five theaters targeting Oscar voters and guild members in New York and several California locations, who watched a Q&A discussion transmitted electronically after synchronized screenings. The main event was held at the AMC Lincoln Square in Manhattan where cast members (sans Denzel, who was sick) answered questions submitted via Twitter and Facebook. Huzzahs go to Paramount execs Megan Colligan and Lea Yardum for championing such new media innovation.

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